Man City attack stalls in scoreless draw
Roberto Mancini's tinkering backfired again as Manchester City blew the chance to join Manchester United at the top of the Premier League after a scoreless draw at West Ham on Saturday.
Ten days after his three-at-the-back experiment in City's shattering Champions League defeat at Ajax, manager Mancini was at it again at the other end of the pitch at Upton Park.
But the decision to start with Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko in the same lineup for the first time failed just as spectacularly as the champions failed to score for the first time in almost seven months.
Mancini thought his side had done enough to win the game.
"No, no. Not a fair result," he said. "When you have 65 perent ball possession, 22 shots -- maybe less shots on goal -- you deserve to win -- and we missed four incredible chances to score. But I am happy with the performance, because we played well, I'm unhappy with the chances that we're missing.
"When you're playing well and you have a chance, and you're missing an incredible chance, you can be frustrated. ... But this is football. If you don't score, you can't win -- we lost two points."
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce disagreed with Mancini's take on the result and felt his team was good value for its point.
"I'm really pleased," he said. "I think that our performance today from start to finish was very, very good indeed."
It could have been even worse for Mancini's men had Kevin Nolan not seen an early goal controversially ruled out for offside as West Ham more than held its own and was led brilliantly by Winston Reid and James Collins.
On this evidence, City really will need the "miracle" Mancini predicted to rescue its Champions League campaign, starting in Tuesday's revenge mission against Ajax.
Mancini yesterday mocked suggestions he could become a victim of the swelling ex-Barcelona influence at City, amid rumours Pep Guardiola may be lined up to replace him.
He refused to deny the reports he came close to agreeing to join Monaco before City's extraordinary title triumph.
He proved he was a gambling man at both ends of the pitch today, handing Kolo Toure his first league start since August and recalling James Milner, although he was forced into a last-minute change when the latter hurt his hamstring in the warm-up and was replaced by Gareth Barry.
That may have scuppered Mancini's Plan A but there were no excuses for the shocking defending that should have seen City behind inside four minutes.
The assistants' flag was up instantly, although replays showed Nolan may have been level.
Mohamed Diame was close with a rising drive after easily beating Toure, who was looking far from comfortable as a makeshift right back.
He was almost caught out again when a good cross-field ball found the lively Matt Jarvis, whose cross was met superbly on the run by Yossi Benayoun.
Hart appeared to tip the Israeli's thunderbolt against the bar and over but the officials thought otherwise.
Andy Carroll also went close to his customary goal against City, which continued to misfire.
The same could be said of the assistant referees, who spared Balotelli's blushes when they controversially flagged again after the striker horribly shinned Tevez's free kick from point-blank range.
Mancini did not pull any punches after the game when asked about Balotelli's miss.
"This is football," he said. "I think that a player like Balotelli, when he has a chance like to today, he should score. Because when you are a top player, if you have a chance, you should score this -- but I don't think he didn't want to score."
The Italian also snatched at a cutback from Toure and miscued an overhead kick from Nasri's cross before the break.
Jaaskelainen almost fumbled Tevez's snapshot after the restart before getting away with spilling the striker's corner as City threatened, while Collins was also booked for a cynical check on Dzeko.
But West Ham got going again and Nolan failed to glance Benayoun's cross on target before Carroll did likewise with his own overhead attempt.
Benayoun joined Collins in the referee's notebook as Tevez continued to pull the strings for City, although his finishing was badly awry when give a chance to break the deadlock.
That was nothing compared to one of the misses of the season midway through the half from Barry, who controlled Tevez's ball on his chest put somehow prodded wide from barely three yards.
Mancini had seen enough and hauled off Balotelli for Sergio Aguero, with Hammers boss Sam Allardyce sending on Gary O'Neil for Diame.
Suddenly, City was swarming but Reid and Collins were producing heroics at the back.
West Ham was also a threat on the break, with Carroll's lunging finish after more fine work from Jarvis his final act before the introduction of Carlton Cole.
O'Neil and George McCartney were both booked and Aguero almost caught out Jaaskelainen from a quick free kick.
Information from Press Association was used in this report.